Lewis: Pats’ heroics aside, Saints still in great shape

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. — Sometimes it’s just not your day.

Especially in the NFL where, unless you’re the Jacksonville Jaguars, it usually can be anybody’s day.

The Saints seemingly did everything to beat themselves for three-plus quarters Sunday, then did seemingly everything to win with a little help from New England before succumbing to Tom Brady’s last-minute heroics to wind up on the short end of the scoreboard for the first time this season, 30-27.

“This is something I will replay in my mind for a long time,” said cornerback Jabari Greer, the victim of Brady’s 17-yard touchdown pass to rookie Kenbrell Thompkins with 5 seconds left. “It’s going to be hard to digest. But that doesn’t define who I am, and it doesn’t define my team.”

Indeed not.

The Saints may no longer be undefeated. But they’re 5-1, tied with Seattle for the best record in the NFC and safely ensconced atop their division headed into their bye week.

And for those wanting to look ahead, the opponents in their remaining 10 regular-season games are a collective 24-31. Only the Seahawks and San Francisco have winning records.

The rest of the NFC South is a collective 3-12 — 5-15 if you count Carolina twice.

Plus, these were THE New England Patriots, the winningest team in the league since 2003 (131-35) and the best team at home since 2002 (76-15), including a now 21-1 mark in Gillette Stadium in October in the past decade.

That, as this week’s Patriots game notes pointed out in the vernacular of the neighborhood, is “wicked good.”

On top of that, New England was in a rare must-win situation, coming off a desultory 13-6 loss to Cincinnati in which Brady’s challenging of Brees’ record of consecutive games with a touchdown pass was stopped two games short. (He’s now at one in a row, thanks to the game-winner.)

And that’s not to mention a lot of noise in the locker room over when, if ever, tight end Rob Gronkowski is coming back.

Still …

“No matter who you’re playing, it’s hard to get a ‘W’ in this league,” Saints guard Jahri Evans said. “In the end, the team that makes the most plays usually gets it.”

And in the end, the Patriots made one more.

They probably shouldn’t have gotten the chance.

Teams rarely come back after going four-and-out from their 24 and then throwing an interception with 2:16 left and only one timeout remaining.

But Brady, in his 38th fourth-quarter game-winning drive, hit 5 of 7 passes for 70 yards to produce the game-winner after he’d gone 4-of-13 for 32 yards in the second half before that.

He might not have had time to do it had Saints coach Sean Payton not called on Drew Brees to throw for Marques Colston on third-and-7 from the New England 21 with 2:33 left.

The pass was incomplete, and the Saints still got a Garrett Hartley field goal. But the Patriots saved a valuable timeout.

“We were trying to be aggressive and take a shot,” Payton said. “It was just a decision I made, and we went back and forth on it.”

And before throwing too many stones at Payton and Brees, remember this also is the pair who dialed up the third-and-20 touchdown pass to rookie Kenny Stills that had put the Saints ahead 24-23 after they spent most of the day playing from behind.

And don’t forget that Patriots coach Bill Belichick seemingly had his own questionable moment on the previous series — three straight runs between the tackles after New England had reached the Saints 9.

Stephen Gostkowski’s field goal made it 23-17 when a touchdown would have left the Saints two scores down with eight minutes left. But that was one of the few things that broke the Saints’ way beforehand.

There was the false start call against Evans when the Saints were prepared to go for it on fourth-and-1 from the New England 38 when it appeared the Patriots were in the neutral zone. A potential scoring drive turned into a punt.

There was Jimmy Graham, held without a catch after being called an unstoppable offensive threat earlier in the week, coming up with a leg injury that allowed Kyle Arrington to make an easy interception at the Saints 20.

And the Saints were flagged for having 12 men on the field when the Patriots faced third-and-16 just before halftime. Who does that?

And yet they were this close to winning.

“We fought so hard,” said Greer, classy as always. “That’s why I feel so badly for my teammates.

“Next time, I’ll make that play.”